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Fly Fishing the Streams and Rivers of KZN


Fly Fishing in KZN

The basic techniques, tackle requirements and approach for fishing the rivers and streams of KwaZulu-Natal are largely the same, irrespective of which river is being fished. However, the levels of difficulty do vary from stream to stream.  Some may demand more technical proficiency and experience, and much of the outcome will depend on how well the individual applies him or herself to the task. The choice of tackle and approach lies with the individual and what they are most comfortable with.

The headwaters of most of the rivers rise deep in the folds of the earth below the towering buttresses of the main Drakensberg escarpment. Here they are small, clear, steep and fast flowing. The brown and rainbow trout found here are wild and small. Very few streams holdmore than one species, so they are generally recognised either as a brown or rainbow trout water. 

At these higher altitudes, light-line fly-fishing is recommended and nothing more than a 2 wt rod is needed, with most small stream fanatics preferring rods in the range from 1 wt down to 000 wt. Short rods between seven and eight feet are ideal in general terms, with rods below and above this being more specialised, depending on the stream conditions. You need a reel to store a good quality floating line that is matched to the rod weight.

Attach to this, a 4X tapered monofilament leader of between six and nine feet, termination in a tippet of nothing more than 5X, but preferably 6X and even 7X for really small flies and a delicate approach. Many fly-fishers are now opting for furled leaders of similar lengths for the performance they offer in presentation, an important element of small-stream fly-fishing.

Tippet and leader lengths can be adjusted to suit the conditions. For example, with heavier weighted flies and in windy conditions, the lengths should be shortened to an overall length of between six and eight feet. In perfect conditions and with unweighted nymphs and dry flies, it can be lengthened to 12 feet, and more if necessary. Longer leaders will help with skittish, difficult trout. Stealth, a careful, slow approach and reducing false casting to the minimum are  important on these Lilliputian waters.  The same rules apply, in fact, to any stream or river fishing, but even more so here.

Many fly-fishers prefer wading and, if you can, it is recommended, but do so at the pace of a snail, covering the water a short distance upstream and don’t splash around – in other words don’t wade and cast at the same time. Waders are not essential in South African conditions, with most flyfishers preferring quick drying long trousers. Also take time to observe what is happening around you. Establish whether the trout are moving near the surface, for then emergers or dry flies may be preferable. Alternatively, when there is no sign of them, there is a good chance they will be feeding deeper or along the bottom, when a nymph imitation might be more successful. 

For nymphing, it is best done by casting directly upstream or upstream and across, allowing a dead drift back down towards you. It is advisable to use a yarn strike indicator pre-soaked in a good floatant, positioned up the leader about one-and-a-half times the depth of the water you are fishing. Adjust the strike indicator regularly as the depth of the stream changes. Keep casts and drifts short and avoid drag by mending as often as needed.

The fly-fisher could also fish a rig consisting of a heavily weighted nymph and, tied about 30cm to 40cm off the bend, an unweighted fly such as a soft hackle to drift higher in the water layers.  The latter offers a good imitation of an emerging insect, and can be a very successful approach.

Dry-fly fishing is probably the most exciting way of fishing these small streams, especially being able to witness the take and moment of deception. 

These small streams combine with other tributaries to eventually form larger rivers in the middle reaches, where some are still suitable as a habitat for trout. Most of what has been mentioned for the small streams applies to fishing these more classic rivers, other than perhaps the need to use a rod that will be suitable for longer casts, reach and heavier fish. A 3 wt rod between eight and nine feet long is ideal. However, nothing more than a 4 wt is recommended.

Reels, lines, leaders, techniques and approach as already outlined will all apply in setting up for larger river fishing. Even the flies used will vary little other than the inclusion of a few larger dragon or damsel fly imitations – simply because these insects are fairly prolific in these waters.

Fly-fishers have the habit of carrying too many different flies, when all you need are a few good flies in a few sizes.  Your fly box should include two or three different nymph patterns, (weighted and unweighted), an emerger or two and a handful of dry flies. The latter should include terrestrial insect imitations, especially for the summer months. On any of the KwaZulu-Natal streams or rivers, this should be sufficient to entice the trout out of their lies.

For small streams, flies should be in the #14 to #18 size range. The same applies to the larger rivers, but for these sections also keep a few flies representing the bigger aquatic insects, in the range #12 or even #10. Experience has shown, however, that small flies are often more productive than the larger imitations, even on the bigger stretches of river.

Make sure to have the following flies in your fly box:


Zak, GRHE, Flashback


Klinkhammer, Soft Hackle

Dry Flies

Spent Mayfly Spinner,  RAB. 

CDC, Elk Hair Caddis, Griffiths Gnat


Hoppe, Flying Ant , Spider



Quentin Austin
+27 83 799 3690


Thalia Thain
+27 82 882 8051
+27 33 267 7472



Natal Fly fishers Club
+27 33 342 8820 (bookings)
+27 33 345 3700 (office)

Underberg Himville Trout Fishing Club
+27 82 6363985 


Articles & Blogs

Wild Trout, Hidden Streams

Nightjar Travel 6:30am 22 Jul

Wild Trout, Hidden Streams

A wild trout, tiny, but perfect, in streams made of no more than pockets connected by ribbons of water that flow out of high mountains, that’s the stuff that dreams are made of.  These trout are the descendants of those that were originally seeded into these waters in the late 1800s after the ova survived the 3-week journey by sea in frozen wooden...

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A Rod Named Didima

Nightjar Travel 6:30am 15 Jul

A Rod Named Didima

Sometimes you need to share with others who will understand the things that get you excited. A week or so ago Stephen Boshoff, bamboo rod maker and innovative craftsman extraordinaire, called me and said he was sending me one of his rods to use and give him feedback. 

I had in fact seen the rod before and said then that when I grow up I would like to commission him to build me one. Alas, my wife the exchequer would have to agree to release the appropriate funds. I, of course, consider it appropriate, but if it’s the truth you are after,...

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Encounters of the Close Kind

Nightjar Travel 6:30am 3 Feb

Encounters of the Close Kind – People, Fish and Snakes

I look forward each year to a hiking, camping and fishing expedition into foothills of the Drakensberg mountains to enjoy being close to nature, stalking wild trout and sharing the experience with a few likeminded friends. 

This year didn’t disappoint. We experienced rural Africa at its best; warm, friendly, poor only in a financial sense, and welcoming people that left you feeling humbled by the experience. 

We made connections with trout as well as hard fighting indigenous yellowfish and...

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Fishing the Old Dam

Tom Sutcliffe 11:55am 19 Nov

IAN COX SENT THIS PICTURE WITH THE CAPTION - ‘Why you should be fishing the Old Dam’

I looked at the picture above and replied to Ian, asking if he’d perhaps taken the fish on a # 20 Single Feather CDC Midge and an 8X tippet…?

"Not even close", Ian replied. "Foul hooked on a red tailed Woolly Bugger (# 10) trailed very deep behind a boat on a 4X tippet. Not the most skillful fishing but the only way we able to raise fish."

I replied to Ian: "As Hugh Huntley, the great wizard of the Old Dam would have said, 'Cox if I thought you were going to cheat I...

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A Slice of Rural Africa

Valda 5:55am 16 Oct

Words and pics by Peter Brigg,

I can't recall the number of times I have hiked into the mountains to hunt wild trout in these pristine environments, but I do know it is many. I have also written often of my experiences, of the adventures and the pleasures that this kind of flyfishing brings me. What I have seldom mentioned is that the first part of these hikes usually involves an hour or two of passing through rural settlements where the people we encounter have always been inquisitive...

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Good Works

Tom Sutcliffe 4:50am 4 Jun

From Peter Brigg

I thought this may be of interest to you. There is a project that has been started up in the Kamberg area by the KZN Fly Fishing Association assisted by Linda Gorlei and others. They are restoring a section of the Mooi River between Peter Moller’s farm Riverside and the Kamberg Nature Reserve. This weekend the Durban Fly Tyers went up to Kamberg to introduce the local community to fly tying and Jay Smit produced some training vices for them.

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What Trout Want

Tom Sutcliffe 11:59am 9 Apr

What Trout Want - The Educated Trout and other Myths
by Bob Wyatt

I enjoyed this book as much, if not more, than Bob Wyatt's previous work, Trout Hunting - The Pursuit of Happiness.

In What Trout Want, Wyatt demolishes two long held beliefs in fly fishing that had their origins way back in the Halfordian era and were perpetuated by the likes of Schwiebert, Marinaro, Swisher and Richards and a heap more famous anglers besides. The author convincingly disproves the concept of selectivity as we anglers know and understand it and does a remarkable hatchet job on the so-called '...

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Fishing in Lesotho

Tom Sutcliffe 7:00am 26 Jan

Received from Ian Cox:

Says Ian,

I have just got back from a hugely successful weekend fishing in Lesotho. Four of us caught about 20-plus fish for each of the two days we fished. (I went up with the Baha boys,  The great thing was that we were either casting at rising fish or into little nooks and crannies where the fish were holding up. 

The fish were on average about 20cm...

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George 9:14pm 17 Oct

Words and pics by Andrew Fowler.

There is a small river, which flows through the soft folds of the Dargle Valley that converses in the same languages that I do: English, Afrikaans and Zulu.

Let me explain. The uMgeni itself, the Zulu speaker, emerges from a highland vlei as a small stream. It is joined a few miles down, by the Afrikaner (die Poort), and some way along by the Furth (the Englishman). And I think that it is only at...

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